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article imageFrom 2,000 to 200 — Orangutans doomed unless Tripa fires halted

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By Elizabeth Batt     Jun 28, 2012 in Environment
Banda Aceh - In direct defiance of Indonesian National Law, conservation groups say palm oil companies are continuing to set the Tripa peat swamp forests ablaze, threatening the last 200 orangutans in a population that once numbered 2,000.
Despite a high level National Investigation launched months ago, the Coalition to save the Tripa peat swamps said that palm oil companies are still setting fires and destroying forests inside the protected Leuser Ecosystem of the Tripa peat swamps in Indonesia.
The forest on the coast of Aceh province, has one of the largest remaining populations of wild orangutans in the world. But companies have been decimating them by burning up the natural habitat and planting saplings for palm oil. The principle ingredient of this oil, is found in approximately half of all packaged goods sold on grocery store shelves.
Field staff filmed and photographed numerous fires burning in the palm oil concessions after noticing a recent spike in the number of fires recorded by satellites monitoring fire hotspot activity in Sumatra. It's bad news for Tripa's orangutans said Dr. Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP).
Hotspots detected by MODIS satellite in Tripa Peat Swamp between 17-26 June 2012. Plotted on LANDSAT...
Hotspots detected by MODIS satellite in Tripa Peat Swamp between 17-26 June 2012. Plotted on LANDSAT imagery 7 dated June 3rd, 2012.
SOCP/YEL
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"The situation is indeed extremely dire," Singleton said. “Every time I have visited Tripa in the last 12 months I have found several orangutans, hanging on for their very survival, right at the forest edge. Its very easy to find them and we have already evacuated a few lucky ones to safer areas."
Earlier in the month, the coalition estimated that there are now only 200 orangutan left at Rawa Tripa areas, compared to 1990, when almost 2,000 of the great apes were registered. Now with an escalation in fires, their situation is desperate.
"When you see the scale and speed of the current wave of destruction and the condition of the remaining forests," Singleton said in a press release sent to Digital Journal, "there can be no doubt whatsoever that many have already died in Tripa due to the fires themselves, or due to starvation as a result of the loss of their habitat and food resources."
Back in April, the Head of the Indonesian Government’s special REDD+ Task Force, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, announced an immediate detailed investigation to determine if land allocation for palm oil plantations had been granted illegally. So far, the investigation team has yet to report any findings.
"There is no doubt that each of these companies is breaking several laws," said Kamaruddin, a lawyer for the Tripa community, and "whilst we realize, and very much appreciate and support the investigation going on (by the Department of Environment), it’s proving to be too little too late."
The lawyer added that "these companies simply have to be ordered to stop immediately, and that order to be strictly enforced, otherwise the Peat Forests and inhabitants of Tripa will be lost forever,” he said.
Fires continued to rage late yesterday in the northern stretches of the PT Kallista Alam concession and in the concessions of PT. Surya Panen Subur 2, PT. Cemerlang Abadi, PT. Gelora Sawita Makmur, PT. Dua Perkasa Lestari and an area known as the PT Patriot Guna Sakti Abadi concession. The fires are also reported to be causing respiratory problems for people in surrounding villages.
Tripa was high on the agenda of the newly inaugurated Governor of Aceh and the European Union, yet still nothing is being done to curb palm oil companies that consistently break the law.
Furthermore, Indonesian President SBY gave a global policy address on June 13, on the future of Indonesia's forests, ahead of Rio+20 summit, at CIFOR, claiming that deforestation was a thing of the past.
"Losing our tropical rain forests," SBY said, "would constitute the ultimate national, global and planetary disaster. That's why Indonesia has reversed course by committing to sustainable forestry."
But Kamaruddin said that the Indonesian government needs to step in immediately, and called for direct Presidential Instruction to "bring an immediate halt to the rampant and illegal destruction of Tripa, not a speech telling the world deforestation is a thing of the past."
The ongoing destruction witnessed by the coalition team the conservation groups say, "is a clear indication that these are simply empty words, and that Indonesia is giving no reasons for its international commitments to be taken as anything more than mere rhetoric."
Digital Journal first reported on the plight of Sumatran orangutans on March 31, when we learned that an estimated 100 apes had been killed in 92 fires, burning out of control in the Tripa forest on the coast of Aceh province. At the time, Dr. Singleton said unless deforestation was halted, the Sumatran orangutan could be gone by the end of the year.
Earlier today, the doctor said:
There is still a decent orangutan population in Tripa, however hard and fast it is being extinguished, and there are also large tracts of land that have been cleared of forests but never used. If these companies were immediately instructed to stop all their destructive operations while the legal investigation process continues, and then removed, ideally with prosecutions and appropriate punishment, Tripa, its orangutan population, and many of the contributions it once made to local community livelihoods could still be restored.
Without an immediate halt, Singleton added, "it will all be lost, to the ultimate benefit of only a handful of already incredibly rich people based elsewhere."
SOCP has established a petition asking the Indonesian President to immediately halt all the destruction of Tripa and enforce Indonesian law. The Tripa peat swamps writes SOCP, "are vitally important ... and have long been recognized as a UNEP/UNESCO Great Ape Survival Partnership Priority Site for Great Ape Conservation."
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